Wednesday, October 19, 2011

October Secret Agent #44

TITLE: The Very First
GENRE: Upper MG historical fiction

“Who are these people?” Cinnimin Filliard pushed her long curly hair out of her face as she looked at one of her father’s photo albums. “Are they the ones you said were coming to live with us?”

“Indeed they are. I hope you don’t mind having to share your room with Katherine. She’s only three months your junior.” Mr. Filliard took a sip of tea. “You know I would’ve gone to the depot to pick them up instead of making them take a cab here, but I haven’t felt too strong since my rheumatic fever last year.”

“Of course I understand, Daddy. Your health is the most important.” Cinni looked at the brief biographies her father had written for each of the five Brandts. “The mother actually won awards for being a good housewife? I can’t believe people still do that in the twentieth century.”

Mr. Filliard smiled at his youngest child, his special pet. “Most girls and women aren’t as forward-thinking as you. Maybe as you get older, you’ll find your opinions are changing. If I live long enough, I could see you living the life of a housewife and mother of many children when you’re a woman.”

“I hate it when you talk like that. Just because your doctor thinks your rheumatic fever weakened your heart and gave you a death sentence doesn’t mean it’s true. My friend Kit is always talking about how a lot of doctors think they’re God. I bet the medicine man would do a better job.”


  1. There is a lot of expository dialogue here. Especially the stuff about rheumatic fever. I was also a bit confused-- it says historical, but the main character is Cinnamin.

  2. Agree with PVS: Cinnimin is a far too modern name for a protagonist in a historical.

  3. I think this story might be starting too soon, which is one of the most common problems we all have when starting a novel. It's imperative for historicals (particularly for children) that the opening scene be active, grounding the characters in the time period.

    Here I think you have too much telling via dialogue. I understand you're trying to describe the relationship between Cinnimin (Not sure anyone in the 20th century pre-1968 is going to name their child that) and her father, but it doesn't have much impact on the reader.

    I particularly feel like it's cheating when you have the dad tell how "forward-thinking" his daughter is. Show us.

    For example, if you open with a scene where she's sent to the depot to meet them with only a driver, it would show how independent she is. And it would make for an interesting meet-up. I don't want to tell you how to rewrite your opening, of course, just to give an example of a more "showing" version.

    I'm sorry, but I wouldn't read on.

  4. Yeah, gotta agree, some things just don't fit here. The name doesn't seem right for historical fiction, let alone the shortening of it.

    The characters should never talk about things they both know in order to pass on information to the reader.

    The discussion on the good housewife thing doesn't ring true - even a forward thinking person is usually aware of how the rest of the world works unless they've been raised in isolation.

    It's not my genre, so I probably wouldn't push through this to see where it went. It might help if the title gave a little more clue to know what is intriguing about the mc.

  5. I'm confused about the time setting. The use of the phrase "three months your junior" made me think earlier part of the century, but then the discussion about housewives makes me think later.

    Also, if the story is from Cinnimin's viewpoint, "Mr. Filliard" should be "Father" or "her father."

    As others said, the information about the fever probably doesn't need to be here. Make us care about Cinnimin first and then we'll care about how her father's health affects her.

    Good luck!

  6. I'm sorry. I'm not hooked. I agree with Tere's comments earlier. You seem to be using the dialogue for exposition, like you had a list of "clues" to give us about what time period it is and backstory regarding her father's health, and you stuck it in their conversation.

  7. I was only 11 when I created the characters in my Atlantic City series, so Cinnimin started out as a misspelling. Even after I realized my error, I kept the spelling, since I think it looks better than Cinnamon. When I was envisioning her in my mind 20 years ago, I saw a girl with a spicy personality and cinnamon-colored hair and and eyes. The story in the series is that her mom named her after her favorite spice, but she wasn't a very good speller. (And my Atlantic City books are a mix of historical fiction, spoof, and social satire, so it's not always going to be straight historical.)

    Cinni is the double protagonist of the first book, along with her new best friend Katherine (nicknamed Sparky). These 250 words actually follow a short foreword and introduction, giving a brief summary of the quasi-religion, secret society of sorts that started a long time ago and is centered in their town (and is the whole reason so many of the characters don't always think or behave the way people of their time would), and then showing the now-aged female characters getting together to record/write the story of their youth.

    My books tend to be dialogue-heavy, so I'm used to setting things up and conveying information that way. I'll never get the modern trend to just jump right into action without providing a bit of a set-up of character and situation first.

    BTW, it opens in August 1938.

  8. I'm going to agree with what everyone else said about expository; it feels like you're using the dialogue as a way to sneakily give the reader a lot of background information. (The bit about the rheumatic fever was a very good example of this--he wouldn't refer directly to something that both he and his daughter knew about and experienced.) On the subject of dialogue--Cinni talks in a very grown-up manner. I don't know if she's written this way to make her sounds smarter or more "historically accurate" but it's not done as believably as it could be.

    Besides that, the fourth paragraph threw me off a little bit. The juxtaposition of Cinni as his "special pet" with his declaration that he could see her settling€ down, producing a ton of babies, and giving up any hope of a career. That might just be me, though.

    I wanted to mention your POV--not because it was a problem, but just to offer what I thought. From what I can see, it's third person, but it's not focused on any one person (3rd person limited POV) and it's not focused on a bunch of people (3rd person omniscient POV). This makes it feel a bit distant to me, but I think it works.

    Mr. Fillard and Cinni sound like complex characters with a unique relationship--if you can get your dialogue to reflect that, then I think this would be really interesting.

  9. Dear Carrie,

    I'm sorry, I posted my comment before I read yours. Anyways, re: your comment about setting up information using dialogue--there's a difference between giving information in dialogue in a way that would come up in conversation and giving dialogue in a way that wouldn't happen in a conversation. (For example, if I were talking with my father about something that happened in a sports practice last year, I would say "In track last year...", not "As you know, I ran track in 2011, and during one of our afterschool Wednesday practices...".) The first sounds believable; the other makes the reader aware of the author trying to make the reader know all this information, and pulls the reader out of the story. I think you have a little too much of the latter in your piece, which is what the other commenters were addressing.

    I actually really like when people introduce information via dialogue, so I think you're on the right track. In the end of your third and your whole fourth paragraph, for example, I think you do a good job of introducing an important part of Cinni: her forward-thinking, and her opinions on women. If you change some of your other dialogue to be more like this--more understated and subtle, like something a father and a daughter would say to each other and not something they both already know--I think you can still get in the salient information.

    I hope this is helpful! Good luck!

  10. When starting with dialogue I think it helps to give a basic identification as soon as possible. e.g. 'Indeed they are,' Mr Filliard took a sip... That way we don't spend 3 sentences wondering (or even guessing, wrongly) whether the speaker is a man or woman. Also you deliver a lot of back story through their words and some of it seems unrealistic, like him pointing out that she's only 3 months younger. Unless Cinnamin barely knows Katherine, why would Mr F. point that out?
    I like that it starts with dialogue though - straight into what's happening : )

  11. I understand where you are coming from, but I have to agree with the other posters, the dialogue isn't natural here. Especially the last paragraph. It's an info dump. I can't see this girl saying that. Tere makes some very good points. I'm sorry, but I'm not hooked.

  12. I also agree with the other posters that the dialogue is serving as an info dump. Actually, I think your story may start with the last sentence, it's the most interesting.

  13. I agree with everyone else about the dialogue and have nothing new to add on that front. I would like to say though, that if you have to explain your story (as you do in your comment) then it isn't working. The reader should get all that from what you've written.

    We should know it's 1938, not because you tell us, but because they're listening to Buck Rogers on the radio, or there's a picture of FDR on the wall, or they're concerned about that Hitler guy in Germany. Perhaps drop in those kinds of hints.

  14. It says in the last line of the short Introduction that it's 1938: "You start at the beginning, with ‘Once upon a time,’” Sparky says. “On a very hot day in August 1938....

    Sparky (Katherine) and her family were born in Germany and were living in Holland for a number of years. They were brought to America by Mr. Filliard, who's actively involved in helping people living under the threat of Nazis, Soviets, and Fascists. And Cinni actually does have a photo of FDR on her bedroom wall, and idolizes him too much for her own good.

    As I've said, I've always read more older books than modern ones, and so emulate the writing style I'm used to. I'm used to books that open by setting up characters, setting, and situation, and relaying important information directly and up-front instead of saving it for later. I actually don't really like the modern-day insistence on never directly telling the reader anything.

  15. This conversation is a bit “As you know, Bob.” We can learn about the father’s health later, and about the visitors when they arrive. And since this is a historical, giving us a sense of place at the beginning is important. Right now all I know is that it’s somewhere in the 20th century.